A Woman at the Wall

I’m not going to tell anyone how to be Jewish and I expect the same respect from others.

by Rachel Frank

I’m a strong and impassioned supporter of many things, from afar. I have an Obama/Biden 2008 sticker on my water bottle but I never campaigned or donated my time to the cause. I’m a firm believer in a woman’s right to choose and to have control over her own body; I even donated online once to Planned Parenthood. I have a pretty substantial amount of student loans and a degree in sociology from American University in DC which means I care, a lot, about a whole lot. Like I said, I have a lot of opinions but rarely do I go out into the world and emphatically make them known. Can anyone think of a non-overused analogy to explain my point? Put your money where your mouth is. You talk the talk but you don’t walk the walk. Unoriginal and tired as these may be, this is essentially my life. I exist within the contradictory and combative states of wanting to be heard but wanting no one to hear me. I think it’s time for a change.

I’m going walk the metaphorical walk and pay my metaphorical money (as a full time volunteer, that’s the only kind of money I have) and BE INVOLVED in these causes I claim to be so passionate about. On Friday, I turned my Facebook ‘like’ of Women of the Wall into real, in the flesh support and I couldn’t be happier. As I sit typing this I’m wearing my OTZMA t-shirt representing the program I’m on in Israel and also strength, to translate the Hebrew into English. Friday morning’s Rosh Hodesh Sivan service at the wall was nothing if not a display of strength from the women who have been fighting for this moment for too long. While the protestors displayed strength in numbers, the strength of conviction, faith, and belief in basic equality belonged to the Women of the Wall. I didn’t know all of the prayers. I’d never been to a Rosh Hodesh service before but it didn’t matter. For me, this is a fight involving basic religious freedoms and personal convictions. As I was standing at the Kotel with these women, surrounded by thousands who didn’t want us there, their fight became my fight and I was inspired.

The strength to live your beliefs fully and fight for the right to express them openly is something I respect immensely. I want to exhibit the strength my fellow OTZMA participant, Women of the Wall intern, and future rabbinical student Jenn Maggin displays every time she proudly wears her kippah. For her, the kippah is a personal statement of her commitment to Judaism and I want to stand with her as she fights for the right to wear it without facing harassment and conflict. I’m not going to tell anyone how to be Jewish and I expect the same respect from others. At school in DC I held an annual Passover Seder Extravaganza for my friends, no one was Jewish, there was no order to the seder, and according to Jewish law I was probably at best just having dinner. But to me, it was so much more than that. I was building my own personal Jewish identity, one that revolved around friends, food, history, tradition and love. While in Israel on OTZMA that Jewish identity has expanded to include Israel and I want to fight for an Israel where I feel comfortable and accepted.

In a world overwrought with problems, conflicts, and issues it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. It’s also easy to sign an online petition, donate money or change your Facebook profile picture for the cause but there needs to be so much more. I can’t pretend that I’m out there on the front lines, working tirelessly to create social change but I can say that I did something. I went to the Kotel on Friday as a supporter, an observer, a woman, a feminist and a Jew. I can confidently say that I’ll be there next month and I still won’t know the prayers but it still won’t matter. I’ll show up to work at Kids4Peace on Monday morning and remember that I’m actually working towards peace instead of just wearing a peace sign ring. I will probably still delete all of the emails I get from Planned Parenthood asking for more money; a girl can only do so much. The back of my t-shirt reads, ‘ask me about my OTZMA experience’ so please do. I have a lot to share.

Rachel Frank is currently a fellow on the OTZMA program where she has spent the year learning, volunteering, and living in Karmiel, Ofakim and is interning with Kids for Peace in Jerusalem.